Tele2 CEO denies Kazakhstan corruption claims

Tele2's president and CEO dismissed a report by a Swedish newspaper accusing the company of under-handed dealing in Kazakhstan, saying the article doesn't reveal anything the company hasn't already investigated itself.

Mats Granryd stated that the article by SvD Naringsliv "raises several important issues that we take very seriously," but added that the report "does not present any new information that we have not already investigated."

The article claims a secret report raises a number of questions regarding the legality of Tele2's Kazakhstan business, despite the report stopping short of actually accusing the company of breaking the law.

Tele2's relationship with Kazakh businesswoman Aigul Nurieva sits at the centre of the accusations. Tele2 entered into a retail partnership with Nurieva when it entered the market in 2009 by acquiring local operator Neo.

According to the article, Nurieva at the time held a 16.9 per cent stake in state operator Kazakhtelecom, which in turn owned a controlling 51 per cent share of Neo. Following the sale to Tele2, Nurieva acquired the remaining 49 per cent in Neo via her company Asianet in a transaction that included provision for the latter to sell its stake to Tele2 after a five-year period.

That sale date is fast approaching, and the report notes Tele2 could pay SEK1.3 billion (€141 million/$180 million) to acquire Asianet's holding, on top of the estimated SEK500 million it paid for the 51 per cent stake in 2009.

While there is ostensibly nothing unusual in the business arrangement, the article notes Nurieva has links to the Kazakh government, implying some form of collusion regarding Tele2's entry to the market.

Granryd states that Tele2 "performed due diligence whereby we checked relevant risks, partners, payments, vendor and the political climate" before entering Kazakhstan.

"Based on this process and the ethical principles laid down in our Code of Business Conduct, there was nothing that gave us reason to refrain from entering into the Kazak market and into an agreement with Asianet," Granryd continued, adding that the company constantly reviews its position in the market.

In the statement Tele2 also noted that it and third parties have confirmed Nurieva is the owner of Asianet, and concluded that the operator has "zero tolerance for corruption and fraud."

Tele2's Nordic rival TeliaSonera in March was ordered to pay KZT16 billion (€69 million/$88 million) for abusing its dominant position in the market, where it holds a controlling stake in local operator Kcell. The fine came after TeliaSonera fired Per-Arne Blomquist, then its CFO, and three other executives in November 2013, after a review of its Eurasian operations--a business region that includes Kazakhstan.

For more:
- read Tele2's statement
- see the SvD Naringsliv article [in Swedish]

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